This passage from the inspired pen of Moses, the man of God, is well-known to all of us. We first thought that it would not be necessary to write it out in full. But upon second thought we deem it wise to quote it.
The passage reads as follows: “And the boys grew: and Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet (Hebrew: perfect) man, dwelling in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau because he did eat of his venison: and Rebekah loved Jacob. And Jacob boiled pottage: and Esau came in from the field, and he was faint: and Esau said to Jacob, Feed me,
I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me first thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am about to die: and what profit shall the birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me first: and he swear unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils: and be did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: so Esau despised (his) the birthright.”
In order to properly understand this passage of Holy Writ, we should see it in its proper setting here in the book of Genesis. What the sacred writer is attempting to do, is to portray to us the generations of Abraham, the father of all believers. These generations of Abraham are twofold. In the first place, there are the generations of Abraham after the flesh. They are the children which Abraham received from Keturah and from Hagar. The former are portrayed to us in the verses 1-6. The latter, the sons of Abraham by Hagar, are described to us in the verses 12-18. The evident intention of the inspired writer is to show that none of these children share in the promise and in the promised land; at least, not in their generations! But there are also children of God, according to the promise of God; those who are born by the power of the Promise from above, by the wonder of God’s grace. And these are the children of Abraham in Isaac, the genealogy as it will lead up to the birth of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, the firstborn of Mary, and the Firstborn Son of God, Who has the preeminence in all things, both in heaven and on earth.
That, and nothing less, is in the mind of the Holy Spirit in the Holy Scriptures under consideration.
We shall need to bear this in mind also in considering the passage quoted above from Genesis 25:27-34.
For in this passage we do not have a description simply of the natural disposition of the two sons, twin boys, of Isaac and Rebekah, but we here have a working out of the sovereign purpose and counsel of God as this was revealed to Rebekah, ere the children were born or had done good or evil. Compare Gen. 25:23 with Rom. 9:8-13. And we are told in this passage, quoted above, how Esau, as he moved and lived and had his being, under the administration of the covenant Promise, showed in all of his attitude and life that he is profane, a fornicator, who tramples the birthright under foot. We have here laid open to us the reprobate mind of the reprobated Esau. And while the ways of the Almighty are passed finding out, enshrouded in darkness, yet the truth of the matter, as here stated in this paragraph, is here clearly revealed to us.
Esau never approbated the good work of God as he was confronted with the gospel tidings “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”.
Let us attempt to understand the various elements in this passage.
The first matter, that should be made crystal clear is the matter of the Scriptural implication of the term “birth right”.
The Hebrew language does not really have a term to express birth right. It only has the term “becorah”, which is the term for “firstborn”. This term then comes to mean: That which is ours by being the firstborn son. It is the right of primogeniture.
Scripture, it should further be understood, teaches a twofold birth. The one is the birth from father and mother. This is the first birth, from our mother’s womb. This is a birth that all men have. The second birth is that which is ours by the water and the Spirit. This is regeneration, the being born anew and from above. Of the latter birth Jesus speaks to Nicodemus, saying: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. This is only for the elect.
A twofold birth, therefore. Of this there can be no doubt.
But answering to this there is also a twofold birthright. The one is that which is ours by virtue of our being born from our parents, especially as the firstborn, and the other is the birthright that is ours, by virtue of being foreknown, predestinated, called efficaciously, justified, glorified, and set in the heavens above as heir of God and joint-heirs with Christ. See Romans 8:15, 16.
A twofold birth, according to Scripture, and a twofold birthright to correspond with it, also according to Scripture.
Just one more remark, for the sake of clarification. We should bear in mind, that there are many sons in glory, but that only one is the firstborn Son. In this Son of God, the Christ we have fully revealed to us the implication of what is meant by the firstborn Son, and the right of the firstborn Son. All the children have birthrights, but only the firstborn has firstborn birthright!
This latter point should be clearly seen as being to the point when we consider the natural place of Esau in the family of Isaac. Esau is by God’s very special appointment the firstborn son of twin boys. And thus he is portrayed to us here in this passage.
With the foregoing in mind let us attend to the passage under consideration.
In this text we should notice very carefully and exactly, that a distinction is made in the text between these twofold birthrights above enumerated, to wit, the birthright by natural birth, and the birthright by second birth, by the wonder of grace.
Of the former the text speaks when it says “Sell me first (today) thy birthright.” And, again, “he sold his birthright unto Jacob”. While of the latter birthright, that is, the birthright by election and second birth, is mentioned in the last verse, where we read: “so Esau despised the birth right.”
We call attention here to the following:
In the first place, that Moses does not call attention here to Jacob’s mistaken conception of the manner in which the birthright is to be obtained. That Moses will show us in the Chapters that follow. He calls attention here to Esau’s evaluation of things spiritual and heavenly, the birthright.
In the second place, that Moses does not speak in the last sentence of Esau selling the birthright, but of his attitude evinced toward the birthright by selling his birthright. These two are not to be identified. And the text clearly distinguishes them. Hence the text in the Hebrew says: thus Esau despised the birthright.
For it ought not to escape our notice, that Jacob’s pot of lintels could not purchase the heavenly birthright. Esau could not sell it. He could only sell it in his own mind, as he conceived of it, and as he had all his lifelong been instructed in it. But sell it he could not, no more than Jacob could buy it. For this birthright is nothing less that the “sure mercies of David”, which are for the thirsty and the weary and heavy laden. And this is sold to those, who have neither money nor price. Is. 55:1.
We said: Esau despised the birthright!
Let us try to see this briefly.
In the first place this is evident in the fact, that Esau was a man of the field. What! you may say; is Esau’s being a man of the field an indication of his deepest hostile attitude toward the birthright in Christ Jesus ? We believe that such is the plain teaching of the text. When we give due regard to the text we notice, that there is an evident contrast drawn by Moses. We see Esau in bold relief against the background of Jacob. Jacob is a (plain) upright man of moral and spiritual integrity. It is true that much flesh must be purged away in Jacob. But he is upright. The reason? He is “dwelling in tents”. He dwells in the tents of the Patriarchs, he is a pilgrim and stranger in the earth, and he seeks the heavenly fatherland. Heb. 11. Esau is a profane man, he will not live near the altar of Abraham’s tent. He is outside of all that is of the life from above. And that too while he has been diligently instructed “in the aforesaid doctrine,” and told in newness of life. That tent with its instruction galled Esau; his life is full of the bitterness of death. He has a great hatred for the tent of Sarah. He claims the land now, but not in faith as a picture of the heavenly. The hope of the Cave of Machpelah he does not share, the hope of Israel.
In the second place, because of his choice of wives. He could not have done worse. These wives are Hittites, daughters of Ham, of the accursed Canaanites. And Esau chooses these wives simply because he loves women. He knew the difference between a wife and woman. His consideration is not to have a helpmeet, who is a fellow heir of the grace of life. And these wives are bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rebekah because this choice of wives was an indication of the deepest attitude of Esau toward the proclaimed birthright of heaven, as this was pictured in his own birth.
And finally, the definite despising of all that is holy comes to the clear expression in the tent of Jacob. We know the circumstances. We need not repeat them here. But what we must point out is, that Esau’s rejection of the hope of the resurrection, the refusing to look for Christ as the preeminent one, comes to expression in the worst form, when he says: Behold I die, what shall the birthright do for me? Here the birthright would exactly be all in all. But Esau is an unbeliever. He refused to bring forth the Seed in hope in his family. And, saying, let us eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die, he goes his way. Thus Esau despised the birthright!